The bike that I spent the most saddle time with in Solvang was a Madone 6–not a far leap from my own Madone 7. ‘My’ Madone in Solvang was resplendent in blue and white.
Ultegra mechanical 2×10.
Bontrager RL tubeless ready wheels with Bontrager R3 700×23 tires, tubed.
Bontrager alloy bars and stem.
It was a 56, and yes, it was mine.
It is also the bike that is featured in what I think is the best picture of the trip:
Let’s get this out of the way first: Madone 6 versus 7. Is there a difference?
This is purely subjective, as I don’t have a way of objectively measuring it. The 7 feels as though it has better dampening over harsh bumps–it feels like the frame is a bit more alive–more organic–more taut, instead of tight. If you put me on a 6 and a 7 back to back on a smooth road, I would not be able to tell the difference–the stiffness under effort is very similar. But if you put me on a bumpy or cracked road, I think I probably could tell the difference. The 7 is smoother.
I could be full of crap. I could be subconsciously justifying the 7. I don’t think I am. I genuinely believe that there is a difference.
To have an apples to apples comparison, I threw my own Bontrager RLs with tubed, 23c R3 tires on my 7 (because the ENVE wheels I normally run have a marked impact on stiffness and ride quality). I still think there’s a difference. (That said, a wheel upgrade is the single biggest change you can make to this bike. I would rather ride a Madone 6 with my ENVEs, than a 7 with alloy RLs. I’d take a nice set of Bontrager Aeolus, as well).
That aside, let’s talk about the 6. It features the same Kamm-Tail airfoil design as the 7, and more or less the same frame technology, albeit with a different modulus carbon and slightly different layup. It is hand-crafted in Wisconsin, like the 7 (and unlike ‘lower’ variants of the Madone). Based on the build of this bike, it was a 6.2, which retails at $4619.
My last road bike was a Ridley Noah–one of the most aero bikes on the market at the time. There’s a distinct, palpable difference between the Noah and the Madones. In headwinds, both perform admirably–the Noah was my first ‘aero’ roadbike, and riding into my first headwind on it, I was amazed at the difference between it and its predecessor. That said, the Noah was not terribly effective in crosswinds. In fact, the oversized tube shapes may have been a disadvantage in crosswinds, catching more wind than was necessary. The Madones flatly shine in crosswinds–the sensation is akin to sailing on a close reach. If you’re riding a non-aero road frame and try this, I am confident you will feel a difference…a real, palpable difference. (I keep repeating palpable because that’s the best word for the application–you can feel it).
Even if the aero was equal, there’s a huuuuuge difference between the Ridley and the Madones: ride quality. The Ridley was super-stiff–again, a huge change from its predecessor. Whatever you put into the bike, you got back out of it. It felt amazingly efficient when pedalling. But with the massive seat stays and bottom bracket, it was…well, super stiff. Over bumps, pavement irregularities, etc., it would beat you up. With the thick, aero, integrated seatmast, there was no compliance to be had. It was a fast bike, albeit one with very little tolerance for comfort.
The Madones give up nothing on speed. They feel equally as efficient, and equally as fast. Bottom bracket rigidity is amazing (although perhaps not quite as stiff as the Domane). But because the Madone has the rear brake mounted under the BB, the seatstays are pencil thin. And while it has an inverted seat mast, even that is relatively slender. So the bike has a surprising amount of vertical compliance.
Let’s be clear: if you’re looking for a comfortable bike for road irregularities, get a Domane. But if I was riding my Ridley for a century, unless the roads were perfect, I’d end the day a little beat-up. The Madone does an amazing job of combining race bike efficiency with compliance that takes the edge off of rough roads. Certainly over big bumps, I’m either out of the saddle or hopping…but it doesn’t tire you out with road chatter.
The Madone 6 has the same Bontrager house brand brakes that I have on my 7; it’s an integrated, aero design. I never put them to the test in Illinois, but riding Mount Figueroa 1.5 times, I put them through their paces. They are certainly not the lightest or most elegant brakes, but they are aero, and they work very, very well. They inspired a ton of confidence on the steepest descents, and allowed me to put the hammer down in ways I had never done before. That includes hauling me down from one near-50mph clip on the second descent. No fade, no qualms–and very linear and predictable braking action.
The Bontrager RL wheels were fine–basic alloy wheels. You can go tubeless with them easily, which may be a plus for some. For me, I cannot see getting a nearly $5,000 road bike and then riding 1520 gram alloy wheels. Once you get used to riding ENVEs, you never want to go back.
Drivetrain performed well–I talked about it quite a bit the other day. I prefer SRAM Red to Ultegra mechanical…but I wouldn’t balk at riding it. (The Ridley had Ultegra).
Geometry is spot on. It’s confidence inspiring on the descents, stable for out of the saddle exertions going up, and aggressive enough to cut and dice when you get frisky. For me, a 100mm stem and 56cm frame is perfect (I’m about 6′, with a 33″ inseam). I used to ride a 58cm, and downsizing to a 56 feels much better. This bike had the H2 geometry, as does my 7. If you want something a bit racier, go H1. For me, H2 with a reasonable stem and spacer setup is perfect.
What would I change about the Madone? Well, I’d get a 7…because I love mine.
But seriously…I don’t know how I’d improve upon the bike. A set of lighter, more elegant brakes would be nice (Carbon fiber?) but wouldn’t really improve performance too much. My 7 is sub-15 pounds as it is. I wouldn’t change the ride quality/responsiveness ratio at all…I think the compromise is perfect, as is.
It’s an awesome bike. Even after a ton of miles on my 7, I really don’t have constructive criticism. I wouldn’t change or upgrade any parts from my bike–it’s perfect. For me, having a bike that I wouldn’t change a thing on–that’s a rare breed. The Madone is my ideal, perfect dream bike for the road.
It’s just that good.